Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Let it Come Naturally

You know the old saying that goes something like, you can't force a round peg into a square hole? Well, it applies to our classrooms in a very serious way.  You want your students to learn, that is a given.  The challenge lies in the manner in which it is accomplished.

Just like not forcing round pegs into square holes, you can't force learning on your students.  If you try, you will only be met with fierce resistance and certain frustration for all parties involved.

Instead, you need to focus on providing the means for learning to take hold.  Focus on the areas of your classroom that you can control, and allow the students to learn as a by-product.

But, how is this done?  Is there a special magic potion that you can spread throughout your classroom that will magically result in learning?

Not really, at least not in potion form.

What you can do is follow three simple steps that will envelop the students in a learning environment, resulting in their desire to learn without being forced into a square hole.

First, begin your year together with your students by building true relationships with each and every student.  Get to know your students, beyond their favorite color, team, etc.  Connect with them on a deeper level to show them that you truly care about them as a person first, student second.  This straightforward approach will resonate with students simply because you are placing a priority on getting to know them.  Show them that you care about them, as people, and everything you do in the future will be framed around your first decision to know who they are instead of what they can do.

Second,  involve your students in creating the type of environment in your classroom that best suits the learning goals and aspirations of your students.  Allow your students to help you brainstorm the ways in which they learn best.  By engaging your students in this conversation, you will demonstrate to them that they have a say in the manner in which their classroom operates.  Utilize this activity as another way to learn about your students.  Pay attention to what they are suggesting, for it will speak volumes for the best ways that they learn.  Try to be as open minded as possible during this experience, and begin to construct ideas around the suggestions that your students offer.

Finally, follow through and incorporate as many of the ideas from step 2 as possible.  When you are planning your lessons, refer frequently to the chart that you made with your students and try to find ways to include their suggestions.  Doing this will show your students that you value them as learners, and demonstrate to them that their ideas have merit.  While you will not be able to incorporate all of their ideas in each lesson, the ones that you do include will provide a learning environment that your students helped create.  They will assume ownership in what is happening in their classroom, and that feeling will carry them through their learning.

I know that I said there were three simple steps to take in order for learning to just happen in your classroom, and that it may seem as though there are other words you could use to describe these steps.  But, trust me, for it has worked in my classroom for years.  Each of these steps, when taken as whole, will create an environment perfectly structured for learning - without forcing a round peg into a square hole!

What do you think?  Have I overlooked an integral part to creating a natural learning environment?  I look forward to your input in the comments section.

image attributed to flickr

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Having the Difficult Conversation

Teachers fundamentally have a requirement to do what is best for their students.  

Whether you agree with it or not, this includes having critical conversations with your colleagues.  These conversations are not easy to have, or else they would be called chit chats.  But when your students' instruction is impacted,  whether you are concerned with a support teacher's punctuality, or you question a homeroom teacher's instructional practices,  it is essential that you step in and address the situation.

My principal the other day said something profound about critical conversations; she said to talk to someone, not about them.  This really made a lot of sense to me, as schools are notorious for being gossip factories.  Instead of talking to everyone else about this teacher, put on your big boy/girl pants and go talk to the teacher directly.  

One thought to keep in mind when preparing for this type of conversation is to come at it from a place of empathy.  Teachers are human beings that have lives outside of school- which some of our students may doubt!  Sometimes, stressors from our personal lives carry over to our professional lives and impact our effectiveness in the classroom.  The teacher may not even be aware of the impact that a personal matter is having on his/her effectiveness, which is another reason to have the conversation.

When engaged in a critical conversation, try to steer clear from making it personal.  Keep the focus on the students and your concern for their learning.  While this may not be a fool proof method to keep the teacher from getting upset, it does keep the conversation on a professional level. 

These are difficult conversations to have, as no one appreciates being called out for something they are doing incorrectly.  But, by keeping the focus on what is best for students, you will be able to turn this critical conversation into a learning experience for the teacher that will benefit his/her students in the future.

What do you think about the critical conversation?  How do you handle these types of conversations with your colleague? 

image attributed to icanread